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Street Life: Q&A with Todd Craig

Excerpted from an interview with Deesha Dyer and published on geoclan.com.

Q: You’re careful to say tor’cha is a book “about the hood,” not a “hood novel.” What’s the difference?


A: "Some of these 'hood stories' give kids an unrealistic view about street life – they glorify the life of crime. I wanted my novel to engage learning. I wanted to act more like a reporter. I cannot deny that these things take place, so there are those elements within the stories. However, instead of glorifying these elements, I place them in a spectrum of choice – hopefully readers will see that there are indeed other choices that can be made, various choices. We just have to be strong enough to know what they are, and make different choices."

Why give tor’cha such a strong religious/spiritual backbone? Weren’t you concerned injecting the faith principles of Christianity and Islam might turn readers off?


"Growing up, I went to church – really Sunday school - with a lot of dudes. As we got older, some of them turned to lives of crime. What I began to notice more and more was that once dudes went away to do their bids, they came back righteous. It was the teachings of Islam (mainly 5 percenters or Gods and Earths) that brought them back positive and kept them on the straight and narrow. I was always intrigued by how that worked out. Once I started to do the research on the Nation of Gods and Earths, I found their influence reached further than many of us realize.

“Listen to any hip-hop record, and you're gonna hear 5 percenter language. Listen to the slang in the hood, it's got the Gods and Earths speech written all over it. I didn't feel I could write the story without it. And it fit perfectly for me to couple the Ten Commandments with Supreme Mathematics. If you really look at it, Supreme Mathematics works for the Gods and Earths quite similar to the ways the 10 Commandments work for Christians."

Still, using principles of both Christianity and Islam as a common foundation for each chapter is unusual. Why do it?


"I really wanted to build a bridge between the two in a creative and innovative way. Given the climate of the world we live in, it was important to me to make sure I cast a positive light on the Gods and Earths as well as Islam, instead of the foolishness we see in the media, where Islam has been painted as this "deviant" culture where people are doing nothing but violent acts. I know it's not like that. There are good and bad people in religions everywhere, throughout history. But the Gods and Earths that I know are positive influences in our communities. I wanted to honor that positivity and celebrate it."

“Listen to any hip-hop record, and you're gonna hear 5 percenter language. Listen to the slang in the hood, it's got the Gods and Earths speech written all over it. I didn't feel I could write the story without it. And it fit perfectly for me to couple the Ten Commandments with Supreme Mathematics. If you really look at it, Supreme Mathematics works for the Gods and Earths quite similar to the ways the 10 Commandments work for Christians."

In what ways are you hoping tor’cha will reach the community?


"Growing up, I went to church – really Sunday school - with a lot of dudes. As we got older, some of them turned to lives of crime. What I began to notice more and more was that once dudes went away to do their bids, they came back righteous. It was the teachings of Islam (mainly 5 percenters or Gods and Earths) that brought them back positive and kept them on the straight and narrow. I was always intrigued by how that worked out. Once I started to do the research on the Nation of Gods and Earths, I found their influence reached further than many of us realize.

I wanted to give the youth in my community stories they could relate to, characters they could understand, [who speak] just how they speak, with the hope that it may be a springboard for them to continue reading more complex texts, and make a way out of some
of the pitfalls the hood presents on a daily basis.

For me, it's important that urban, inner-city youth really and truly know that knowledge is power. There's an old saying that goes: "you want to hide something from a black person – put it in a book!" It's scary, but the climate we live in shows this to be true. For youth these days, it's cool to be stupid; instead of being in school, getting an education, and making the long-term commitment that leads to a better life, these kids have been brainwashed to think it's cool to be out selling drugs, getting shot or shot at, and even more – going to jail.
I wish someone would tell me what's cool about jail! Ask anyone in jail, they'll tell you they don't want to be there. Check the drug dealer on the corner that's been caught in that rut, he'll tell you it's not poppin' at all.

There's nothing easy about escaping the clutches of the hood. I made it out through reading, writing and engaging in education. So in giving back, I wanted to give youth something they could read hoping that would spark their interest to make some other choices…even if they don't make the choice, I really want them to know there are indeed other ways.

NOTE: Craig is targeting urban markets on the East Coast with programs for disadvantaged youth to receive a donation of books. Toward that goal, Prodigy of Mobb Deep (also featured on the book’s soundtrack), and Voxonic Records recently purchased a chunk of novels to be donated on behalf of Infamous/Voxonic to disadvantaged youth in 5-7 markets across the country.